Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carrell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) are magicians at the top of their game; they have been resident in Las Vegas for 10 years, but unlike the city that is consistently changing, Wonderstone and Marvelton never evolved their act. When newcomer Steve Grey (Jim Carrey) comes on the scenes, he shakes the duo’s foundations, and could finally end their magical friendship.
Are magic and magicians going through the same resurgence as all things fairy tale at the moment? Hopefully not, and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is just a clever way to tell the old rivalry/evolution story in a new way. Fingers crossed anyway. This is not to say that the film does not work – it does – but it also feels familiar, like The Artist with magicians.
The Steves (as they shall be affectionately known) – Carell and Buscemi – do well in their roles. It is clear that the two have a good chemistry together, but then Buscemi disappears for half of the film. He looks fairly great in a blonde wig though. Anyway… Steve Carrel’s character feels as though it was written for Will Ferrell – all brash and egotistical – but Carell makes the role his own. Olivia Wilde does not have a whole lot to do, but she looks good doing it and the same goes for James Gandolfini, although he doesn’t look as good as Wilde. Jim Carrey seems to be returning to the kind of madcap roles that we loved him for, and his obnoxious Steve Grey – an obvious Criss Angel/David Blaine character – is actually rather entertaining.
The real star of the show though is Alan Arkin as Rance Holloway; a faded magician living in an old folk’s home off the Strip. Arkin is always dry, witty and slightly silly and he brings his A game to the film. Not only is Arkin cantankerous, but he is also sweet and inspirational; not an easy act to juggle.
Where The Incredible Burt Wonderstone falls down, however, is in the structure of the film. Time seems to move at no discernable pace, leaving the audience just how long it has taken the magical friends to make amends (it feels like about 15 minutes). As well as this, there are times when the film relies on it’s actors doing what made them famous (yelling, being zany etc) for laughs. Not only does this not work, but it feels supremely lazy. This is not a good write up for director Don Scardino who directed 38 episodes of the ever brilliant 30 Rock.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a formulaic story about friendship and rivalry, with the Las Vegas setting and magicians grafted in. When the film works within the elevated world of Las Vegas, it works incredibly well, but when it stumbles, it stumbles hard. The pacing, story and structure are a mess, but there is just enough in the performances to redeem the film. That said, it is not quite Incredible.